A SNAKE IN THE BATH
As far as we could judge the snake would be about two feet long or possibly more. It was undoubtedly venomous; probably some kind of viper. Bringing a stick anywhere near it produced angry lashing about and striking, so there was evidently going to be a problem about releasing it. I thought of a hyperactive Australian herpetologist I had seen on British television recently; no doubt if he were here he would have the animal out in a trice, but unfortunately he wasn't so we would have to do the best we could by ourselves.
After some thought we dropped a thick cloth over the business end of the snake, which seemed to control it reasonably effectively. Gripping the body just above the plug hole we tried to pull it out. This was quite impossible; it was immovable, and any harder traction seemed destined to break it. Application of olive oil as a lubricant made no difference. When the cloth was removed the snake promptly doubled itself up and dived back through another hole in the rosette, so that all we could see of it now was the top of a loop projecting from the drain. Further traction naturally achieved nothing. We decided to leave it to its own devices for the night.
Next morning the snake had reverted to its previous position: its upper half was in the bath, not doing very much. This changed as soon as I poked it with a stick; it at once struck angrily. Incautiously, I let my hand wander closer to the snake than I meant to, and with a lightning-fast movement it sank its fangs into the back of my left index finger.
I inspected the damage: two holes a little larger than pinpricks. I squeezed, and some blood appeared. I waited a few moments for pain and swelling to begin: nothing at all seemed to be happening.
My wife, who is Greek, was horrified, and was convinced I was about to drop dead at her feet.
"You must get to hospital straight away."
"But I don't feel anything wrong at all."
"It may be delayed; it may begin at any moment."
"Let's wait and see if anything develops first."
"But it's very dangerous; come on, I'll take you now."
"No thanks. The treatment would be worse than the bite."
This was a fairly telling argument, since we had recently spent some time in Greek hospitals visiting friends and relatives; we may grumble about the British NHS, but try being ill in Greece if you want to be made to appreciate what you've got. (To be fair, I've subsequently had excellent free treatment for a cut at a treatment centre in the Peloponnese.) Reluctantly, my wife agreed to wait and see what happened; meanwhile she busied herself ringing round to ask advice from various friends, all of whom were equally appalled at the news and equally convinced that immediate medical assistance was required. Other people in the house were afraid that the snake would somehow escape from the bath and come upstairs to bite them; one faction advocated killing it with boiling water.
By this time almost half an hour had gone by and there were still no symptoms at all. It was now evident to me, if not to my wife, that no venom had been injected. This was good news, of course, but the question of what to do about the snake was still unresolved. Further attempts to extract it were emphatically forbidden and, truth to tell, I thought I had better not tempt fate a second time. By now it had been in situ for at least two days, possibly longer.
Next morning I was astonished to find that the snake had emerged from its entrapped position. Unfortunately, however, it had also gone partially back down again, so that now the rear half of its body was in the bath instead of the front half. It thus presented no danger, but attempts to extricate it were as ineffective as before; neither pushing nor pulling, even after lubrication with olive oil, produced any effect. Still, it was at least now evident that the snake was capable of getting through the hole if it really wanted to.
Nothing else happened that day or the next. On the morning after that, however, I found that most of the animal had disappeared down the plug hole. A light touch on its tail and it finally vanished; I quickly plugged up the hole to prevent a repeat performance.
Two questions occur to me about this episode. First, why did the bite produce no symptoms whatever? This is fairly easily explained. One possibility is that the snake had already used up all its venom by striking at the stick. Another is that it was simply a dry strike; the books say that in 30 per cent of viper bites no venom is injected.
The other question concerns the snake's ability to squeeze through a small hole. It was evidently remarkably talented in this respect, but how do we explain the fact that it stuck for periods of two or three days at a time and then, apparently, was able to free itself quite quickly? If it could do it then, why not sooner? Several people have suggested that perhaps it lost weight through not eating, but this seems unlikely. Snakes can go for a long time without food. Besides, if it had lost weight, why did it stick the second time? I have no explanation for this.
Note: A correspondent has suggested that the snake would have found it difficult to get a purchase on the smooth surface of the bath and so would have been unable to draw itself throught the tight hole in the rosette. This appears likely and may be part of the explanation for its delay in extricating itself. Probably the rougher surface below the bath, allied to gravity, would have helped it to pull itself through on its return journey.